When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.
The baby was rocking in her swing, and each of my hands was clasping the little fist of a bouncing, giggling, dancing two-year-old.
It was our morning ritual--after breakfast, we had a dance party.
And that day I had collapsed into an armchair and could hardly contain the tears. They were coming out of nowhere.
I had gotten so used to the feeling of being overwhelmed. It was only three months before that I was waddling around campus, desperately hoping my Braxton Hicks contractions wouldn't turn into anything "real" before I finished my last final.
My husband had been working full time, and then some. Some weeks, 70 hours. He would leave work for his own campus, go to class, and then back to work again.
We were both in school, again. Me to finish my BA, him for his Master's. At the same time we had the twins, and I was pregnant.
But not anymore. Suddenly, I was home with three kids, I had finished my degree. He had finished his degree. But the feeling of the walls closing in hadn't gone away yet. I had thought that without the pregnancy, without the crush of finals, without my husband away every minute of every day, without the worry of all those things bearing down on me, the stress would just evaporate.
It didn't. I just kept finding things to fill the void, to explain the sense of constant pressure to do... something.
I was rewriting my resume twice a day. I was cranking out three to 10 cover letters a day. No bites. I was exhausted from nursing the baby, from chasing the twins, from making breakfast and lunch and dinner every single day, from doing all the laundry and sweeping the floor and constantly refreshing the half a dozen tabs of job listings open at any given time. My husband and I were arguing a lot. He had started a new job the week the baby was born, and he was already putting in lots of overtime. My body was still swollen and felt alien after a second c-section, my heartburn hadn't gone away, and it seemed I always managed to forget to eat.
And the girls wanted me to dance with them.
As they asked me why I was sad, why I was tired, why I wasn't dancing, all I could do was stare at the three tiny faces I'd brought into the world, and try to imagine what it would feel like to feel absolutely nothing about them. To not feel guilty and sad and overwhelmed. I told them I had allergies, or that I got an eyelash in my eye.
My phone rang, a perfect excuse to look away. When my sister heard the sound of my voice, she wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help, from two states away.
"Would it be okay if I came and stayed with you?"
"With the kids?"
I took a moment to answer. "I don't know."
That was when I knew. That was when I realized that something was about to simply break. That was when I realized I needed help.
That night, my husband and I had a fight. A real fight. The sort of fight where I came clean and told him how profoundly depressed I'd been, and he told me how resentful he was of me, staying at home and playing house while he left, me never asking how his day was and instead trying to hide in bed as soon as he got home. I told him I was thinking about going to my sister's house, that I couldn't decide if I needed to run away from our house with its responsibilities and frustrations, or from him, or from them, the kids.
After that talk, things got a lot better. I stopped looking for a job. I started going to therapy. He stopped working so much overtime. We started going on dates together. After two or three months, things were almost normal.
But our life was on the verge of falling apart. Some days, I'm amazed we made it. I think about that fight, and if he'd walked out on it, or if I had, we might be separated now. Who knows? Instead, we're back to being where we were.
Overwhelmed. But at least with each other to rely on.
Is there a moment you hit a stress breaking point and knew you needed to change your life? If you'd like to share your story, please send personal essays under 1200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in this series.